Desperate employees search for help with poison manager

Dear Joan:

Does an at-will employee have any recourse if a supervisor gives that employee a review that is filled with inaccuracies, half-truths, blatant fabrications and lies?


The supervisor in our department is an extremely convincing liar, blame-shifter, credit-stealer, micromanager and a master smoke-screener (draws attention to someone else’s mistake to divert attention from his numerous mistakes).


Part of his management style is to raise himself by lowering others. He won’t respond via e-mail to e-mails that might leave an electronic trail of his inconsistencies or lies. Yet, if you tell him anything verbally, he will deny the conversation ever happened, or that the conversation happened but that the content was different, and uses the “your word against mine” routine. Numerous people outside the company have mentioned to several of us that they don’t like doing business with him (actually, they phrased it much more strongly).


Since he arrived at our company, numerous people have complained numerous times, about many issues to his supervisor, to the liaison for the company, to whom you can take confidential matters, to the HR manager, and to other senior officials in the company.


It appears someone has finally had a “talk” with him, however, because he has started writing annual reviews, something he has failed to do ever since he was been hired (six years ago). He is using the reviews as a means of retaliation. The first person’s review

contains not only gross exaggerations, but actual lies. Unfortunately, there are no ways to document it. For example, he is very controlling and will berate anyone who exercises initiative; yet, he will then accuse the person of having no initiative if they go through him first (which he said should be done the last time he berated them).


Another example: he stated that an employee, “fails to follow through, is a poor communicator, is confrontational,” when actually everyone who has ever worked for, or with, that individual knows the truth is quite the opposite. In fact, the accusations actually describe the supervisor, not the employee. My co-worker and I have overheard and seen lies, blame shifting, credit stealing, intimidation, etc. from the supervisor.


Others are also aware of his character (or lack thereof) but all of our complaints have fallen on either deaf ears or on ears of those who don’t know how to deal with him.


Don’t employees have any recourse when people of authority abuse their power in such ways? It is true what they say, that people join good companies but leave bad managers. We have been looking for either transfers or new companies for some time, but these retaliatory reviews are escalating the search. Some long-standing employees, who used to work in this department (15 or more years with the company), have quit or transferred. I know many of my co-workers are like me; namely, we have been model employees and have an excellent work ethic. What recourse do we have for someone like this, who is in a position to put an unjust mar on the records of people with outstanding work histories?



Your opening sentence says it all. You are an at-will employee, and I’d suggest you exercise your right to leave. I encourage you to keep looking for a better job, both inside the organization and outside. At the same time, do what you can to expose this poisonous manager.


For starters, call a meeting with the manager of Human Resources and share this column. If other co-workers will join you, all the better. If numerous complaints have been made and all he has received is a “talk,” it’s possible your supervisor’s manager, or the HR manager, don’t realize the extent of the problem.


It’s time to enlighten them and make the problem hard to ignore. Be factual and don’t pull any punches. Use a professional, objective attitude when describing his behavior. Explain how these complaints are costing the company plenty—in turnover, poor morale, customer complaints and potentially even legal trouble.


Come to the meeting prepared to quote specific actions and comments he has made, as well as customer comments about not wanting to do business with him. Be specific about the number of people who have either left because of him or who are about to (without incriminating anyone, of course.)


Most important, give detailed examples of how he appears to be retaliating. This should raise a very large red flag.


Offer to speak with your supervisor’s manager, and ask the HR manager for some advice about whether that would be a good idea. If this doesn’t cause some action (including stopping the retaliation), you are working in the wrong company.


I don’t usually recommend writing a rebuttal to a performance review, since it tends to look defensive and ends up making the employee look like they can’t take feedback. However, if everyone who feels retaliated against documents their own performance and asks HR to put them in their files, it will also begin to paint a very clear picture of a venomous boss.


If all of this sounds a little too politically risky, your other option is to keep your mouth shut and leave. However, even if you decide to take this route, I hope you will write a very detailed exit interview letter. Sometimes a company will be pushed into action when they lose a good employee who steps forward and tells it like it is. If your credibility is as solid as you claim, an honest exit interview and letter should get their attention. If it doesn’t, nothing will.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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